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Government's changing role in agriculture: from distributing free seed to prohibiting seed saving

by David Dechant

(April 2, 2001 --Cropchoice opinion) -- Before there was a USDA, as early as 1838, the US Patent office handled agricultural affairs. It was interested in obtaining seeds and cuttings from around the world for free distribution to farmers.

Continuing along this line, a lengthy 1855 Patent Office "Report on Agriculture" describes the dozens of seeds and cuttings obtained from around the world, to be distributed by members of Congress. Regarding the importance of such work, the Patent Office said this:

"The time for believing that the exclusive possession of any benefit contributes solely to the privilege or prosperity of any particular country or kingdom has gone by; and the principles of free and universal intercourse and exchange are now conceded to constitute the surest foundation for the happiness of nations."

How things change! Where the patenting of seeds was once unheard of and unimaginable, the Patent Office now grants patents on seeds and cuttings acquired from abroad, even those grown and used for centuries by indigenous peoples, which ensures exclusive possession of any benefit to countries and kingdoms, and to virtual kingdoms like the multinational corporations. Moreover, Intellectual Property Rights have replaced free and universal intercourse.

In addition to granting patents on both GMO and traditional, non-GMO seeds produced domestically and abroad, the Patent Office also grants patents on the immoral terminator and traitor technologies, a.k.a., technology protection systems or gene use restriction technologies. Their purpose is to avoid enforcement problems with contractual seed saving prohibitions, which require the constitutionally guaranteed due process of law, by using a biological enforcer to prohibit farmers from saving seed. In other words, the terminator and traitor technologies act as the judge, jury, and executioner, all at once.

In any case, the Patent Office was once an agency that freely distributed seed to farmers, which they could save; it is now an appendage of the multinational seed companies, approving schemes to ensure that farmers have to pay yearly tech fees and royalties, and in other cases, to ensure farmers have to buy proprietary chemicals for their crops to perform as they should.

In 1862, President Lincoln created the USDA. It took over and continued the Patent Office's work in obtaining new seeds, along with creating new varieties, for free distribution to farmers. Today, the USDA also has reversed course by participating with corporations in developing the terminator and traitor technologies and, in fact, shamelessly co-owns patents on them.

What would President Lincoln think, if he were alive today, knowing that the Department he created was helping corporations turn farmers into serfs? He would be appalled! Congress should be, too.

The Founding Fathers, upon providing for patents in the Constitution, never intended for farmers to lose their historic and sacred right to save seed. Neither did Congress. Upon creating and later amending the Plant Variety Protection Act, it always made sure that farmers could continue to save seed for their own use. Only recently did the patenting of seed begin.

If seeds are to be patented, in addition to being protected by the PVPA, then patent law needs to be amended to prohibit the patenting of terminator and traitor technologies, and to allow farmers to save seed for their own use. Otherwise, we farmers lose yet another piece of our freedom and independence, one we cannot afford to lose.

David Dechant grows wheat, alfalfa and corn in northern Colorado

Check out the story about Dechant at Colorado farmer sees transgenic threats to family farmers